Indian troops mounted a massive bombardment of Pakistani positions along the LoC on Wednesday, a day after a soldier’s body was mutilated and two others were killed, with Pakistani authorities saying 14 people died in the shelling.
The offensive came hours after the Indian Army pledged to exact a “heavy” retribution for the killing of the three soldiers. Observers said the exchange of fire was one of the heaviest since a ceasefire came into effect along the Line of Control in late 2003.
On Wednesday evening, the Directors General of Military Operations of the two countries held an “unscheduled hotline interaction” at Pakistan’s request to discuss the situation along the de-facto border. India’s DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh expressed grief at Pakistani civilian casualties but said Indian troops were “only targeting locations from where Pakistan has initiated ceasefire violations”.
Singh also raised infiltration attempts by terrorists and the “unethical act of mutilation of the body of Indian soldiers close to the LoC by terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan”, a statement said. He said normalcy would return to the LoC if the Pakistani side exercised “strict control on their troops to refrain from any nefarious activities”.
The external affairs ministry summoned Pakistani deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah and protested against continued ceasefire violations and “barbaric mutilation” of the Indian soldier’s body, spokesperson Vikas Swarup tweeted.
MEA summons Pak DHC, strongly protests continued ceasefire violations, resultant deaths of Indian soldiers & barbaric mutilation— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) November 23, 2016
Shah, in turn, protested against the targeting of civilians in a passenger bus and an ambulance in the Neelum Valley, Pakistani officials said. Shah said this amounted to “a serious escalation of the situation”.
Pakistani officials said 10 civilians were killed when shelling hit the bus and the ambulance. The ambulance had gone to evacuate people who were injured when the bus was hit. A motorcyclist also died after being hit by a mortal shell in the same area.
The Pakistani military’s media arm also said three soldiers, including a captain, were killed “while responding to Indian unprovoked firing”. The Pakistan Army claimed seven Indian soldiers were killed but there was no confirmation of fatalities on the Indian side.
Indian officials said two BSF troopers and three soldiers sustained minor injuries in Rajouri and Poonch districts. Several mortar shells also hit the site of the Kishen Ganga Hydroelectric Power Project in Gurez, prompting officials to ask all workers to leave the area.
Indian officials accused the Pakistani side of setting off the exchange of fire by indiscriminately targeting army posts in Bhimber Gali, Krishna Ghati and Naushera sectors of the LoC. “Pakistan Army initiated indiscriminate firing from 9 am on Wednesday on Indian Army posts,” defence spokesperson Lt Col Manish Mehta said.
Wednesday’s escalation came a day after the body of an Indian soldier was mutilated in Machil sector of the LoC.
“3 soldiers killed in action on (LoC) in (Machil). Body of one soldier mutilated, retribution will be heavy for this cowardly act,” an Indian Army handle had tweeted.
An Indian Army source said troops targeted Pakistani posts in Poonch, Rajouri, Kel and Macchil sectors with mortars. “They have lost soldiers in our retaliatory fire and we have also inflicted heavy damage to their posts across the LoC,” the source said.
This was the second time an Indian soldier’s body was mutilated in cross-border skirmishes after Pakistan-based militants attacked an army base in Kashmir’s Uri and killed 19 soldiers in September.
Border Action Teams of the Pakistan Army active in the Machil sector are known to work with militants from the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to target Indian positions.
Shah Ghulam Qadir, speaker of the legislative assembly of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, asked the United Nations Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP), stationed in Muzaffarabad and Rawalpindi, to take notice of the killing of civilians along the LoC. On Monday, four civilians were killed and 10 others injured in several sectors of the LoC.
There are fears in Pakistan that the cross-border skirmishes will intensify in the coming days. Defence analyst Shahzad Chaudhry accused the Indian government of intensifying attacks on Pakistani targets, as it wants to divert public attention from domestic problems.
“A number of factors have emboldened the Modi government further but it may be misreading the ground situation,” he said.
Pakistani security analysts also did not foresee any immediate improvement in bilateral relations. Foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz will visit India for the Heart of Asia conference on Afghanistan next month, but there are no indications of any meaningful bilateral dialogue to improve relations.
Both countries, Pakistani analysts said, are hostage to domestic issues and compulsions. In the case of Pakistan, this comes in the form of pressure from the military establishment and groups that garner support from that quarter, they added.